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Two top classic bands blow the roof off

Chicago, Earth Wind and Fire live up to reputation for smoking-hot live shows

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Earth Wind and Fire and Chicago, with almost 200 million records sold between them, see 21 musicians onstage when the bands combine.</p></p>


Earth Wind and Fire and Chicago, with almost 200 million records sold between them, see 21 musicians onstage when the bands combine.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/11/2016 (1211 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When you have two of the bestselling music groups of all time sharing a stage, with nearly 200 million records sold between them, expectations are going to be high.

But when you have two of the bestselling music groups of all time sharing a stage, it’s pretty much a given those expectations will be met.

And so it was Wednesday night as funk/soul/R&B legends Earth, Wind and Fire and jazz-rock greats Chicago brought their Heart and Soul Tour 3.0 to the MTS Centre.

Both hailing from the Windy City, the groups rose to fame around the same time (1970), and the list of accolades they’ve accumulated over the years is too long to even begin to mention; they’ve got Hall of Fame and walk of fame placements aplenty and dozens of awards and trophies to their names. 

Above all, both are credited with being consistently stellar live performers, and from the first moments of the first song, Chicago’s Beginnings, which both bands performed together, it was clear they were onstage to put on a show the largely boomer-filled audience wouldn’t soon forget. 

The first portion of the evening was a combined set of three songs (one by Earth, Wind and Fire, and two by Chicago) the groups tackled together. With everyone onstage, including six horns and multiple percussion players, it capped out at 21 people — the amount of sound shooting into the arena was intense and dense, but also incredibly well-balanced.

In an adorable moment before Earth, Wind and Fire took over the stage for their individual set, both groups laid out the plans for the evening to the rapt audience — first Earth, Wind and Fire, then Chicago, and then they’d be back onstage together at the end. 

It could be argued Earth, Wind and Fire has contributed some of the best ever bass lines in music history, and bass player Verdine White was grooving hard on them in their set (especially during Serpentine Fire), his bedazzled ankle-length black coat swinging around him as he unleashed some wiggly dance moves. There was a surprising amount of choreography in their set — a lot of funky side-to-side step touches, of course, but also real staging and blocking and conga lines of musicians. 

As the familiar notes of Boogie Wonderland washed over the crowd, many on the floor were compelled to jump to their feet. The set slowed down midway through, though, as they turned down the lights and turned up the bass for slow jams DevotionThat’s the Way of the World, a truly stunning rendition of Reasons and After the Love Has Gone, which showcased the still oh-so-smooth vocals of 65-year-old Philip Bailey.

There is no word to describe the musicians in Earth, Wind and Fire other than tight — they are so good it’s almost bewildering. From duelling guitars to duelling horns and dazzling five-part harmonies to stick-spinning percussionists who made their job look way too easy, it was a treat to see live.

After a brief intermission, it was Chicago’s turn. Things were running a little late by this point, so I’m unsure of whether someone backstage told them to cut the chatter and get right down to business, but they blew through their first handful of songs (which included an impressive lead vocal performance by Jeff Coffey on Question 67 and 68) at a rapid-fire pace. 

The conversation picked up as they rolled into hits Call On Me and Hard Habit to Break, the latter of which received audible swoons from the audience.

While their band is equally as amazing as Earth, Wind and Fire, the most recognizable thing about Chicago is their vocal styling. Their distinct harmonies are still perfectly on point, especially in fan favourite, You’re the Inspiration, a seemingly simple ballad that has some pretty tricky key changes they navigated with ease (as you would expect). 

The last two songs, Saturday in the Park and Feelin’ Stronger Every Day, convinced the solidly seated crowd to get up and move around, but otherwise, Chicago’s set did seem to bring down the energy level a bit from the 10 that Earth, Wind and Fire left it on. That’s not a comment on their excellent performance, more on the arrangement of the night as a whole — it would have flowed better had Chicago opened the night and Earth, Wind and Fire closed.

The bands combined again for a massive encore that included some of their best-known hits, including EWF’s September and Shining Star. The night ended with a face-melting version of Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4, the highlight of which was the blindingly good guitar solos from three different players, who all shared a cheeky smile as they knowingly blew everyone’s mind. 

There was a lot of love on the stage — between the band members, between the bands and the audience, even projected in giant letters on the screens on stage. Early in the night, one of the members of Chicago said the two bands have been performing together for 10 years and their mission is to inject some much-needed positivity into the world. And if that is their mission, they succeeded.  


Twitter: @NireRabel


Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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Updated on Wednesday, November 2, 2016 at 11:45 PM CDT: updated

November 3, 2016 at 10:12 AM: Corrects Jeff Coffey's name

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